Hip dysplasia is one of the most common skeletal diseases in dogs and affects millions of dogs worldwide. As the disease progresses, a dog's hip joints degenerate, causing increased pain and mobility issues for the dog. If left untreated, a dog will eventually be unable to use his/her hind legs and suffer extreme pain. However, the vast majority of dogs with hip dysplasia can lead full and active lives if the disease is diagnosed early enough and proper treatment is given and maintained.
The condition is caused by a looseness in a hip joint that should be tight. If the ball and socket of the hip joint do not sit properly, the friction causes degeneration of the joints, which eventually leading to loss of function in the hip joints.
Hip dysplasia is caused by a number of genetic and environmental factors.
Early onset cases of hip dysplasia usually develops after four months of age. In young dogs, there is a laxity or joint looseness that develops as the dog grows. For later onset cases, the cause is usually due to a form of arthritis called osteoarthritis, which causes the joint cartilage to deteriorate. The onset can also be due to extreme "wear and tear", often seen in working dogs, such as K9s and Search and Rescue animals who work on hard surfaces over many years.
Diagram of normal hip bones (left) and hip dysplasia (right)
Hip dysplasia can affect all breeds, including mixed breeds. However, it is affects large and giant breeds more commonly than small ones. Some breeds are more genetically susceptible to hip laxity have higher instances of hip dysplasia, such as:
Symptoms depend on the degree of joint looseness or laxity, the degree of joint inflammation, and the degeneration present. It's important to note that the pain levels in a dog do not always corrolate with the disease's progress. Some dogs with mild dysplasia may experience extreme pain. Whereas dogs with severe dysplasia may appear to be coping quite well.
Common signs of hip dysplasia include:
As hip dysplasia progresses the following symptoms may appear:
In the video below, a young boxer displays a few symptoms of hip dysplasia.
Veterinarians will examine a dog and look espcially at joint looseness (or laxity), in the hips, which is an early indicator of the disease. In older dogs they will look for a loss of muscle mass in the thigh muscles and enlargement in the shoulder muscles (due to muscle compensation).
The primary test will a laxity test (Ortolani sign). For this, a dog will likely be given a general anaesethic so that the vet can rotate the hip joint without causing discomfort to the dog.
X-rays are critical to see how far advanced the degeneration is and if it has affected the dog's spinal cord in any way.
Figure 1 (left) shows a dog with a healthy hip joint. Figure 2 (right) shows a dog with advanced arthritis in the hip joint.
The vet will also take a blood chemical profile, which includes a blood count, electrolyte panel and urinalysis. Any information you may have on your dog's lineage/parentage is also helpful. However, it should be noted that a dog's parents can be completely clear of hip dysplasia and still produce dysplastic offspring.
The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better the treatment options available. This is because the longer the condition continues undiagnosed, the further the degeneration of the joints will occur.
If you suspect your dog may have hip dysplasia, or you have a breed of dog more prone to the disease, bring him/her to a veterinarian for diagnosis.
Treatment of hip dysplasia can be treated either conservatively or through surgery. Treatment options will often depend on the dog's age, size and the progression and the type of dysplasia (if it is early or late onset). The severity of the joint looseness will factor into whether to go the route of surgery or conservative therapy.
Conservative therapy includes medication and physical therapy as a means of management of the disease. This can include:
For osteoarthritis, degenerative arthritis medications called polysulfated glycosaminoglycans or PSGAGs may be prescribed (e.g. pentosan polysulphate). These medications are naturally occurring components of the joint cartilage and increase joint fluid production. It is recommended to keep an arthritic pet warm and out of cold, damp and drafty environments in order to be more comfortable. Orthopedic foam beds also help many dogs with arthritis.
There are several forms of surgery that are employed for treating hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian will make recommendations based on the age and condition of your dog.
As with any surgical procedure, complications can arise as any surgery involves a degree of risk. These can include infections, dislocations, fractures of the femur, loosening of the implants and nerve damage. However, in general, these complications occur in a low perecentage of cases.
If opting for a pedigree dog, find a responsible breeder. The common belief is that if two dogs with no hip dysplasia become parents the defect would then disappear in their offspring. This is simply not true. Two radiographically sound dogs may still produce dysplastic offspring if the genes responsible for this disease are present. However, selective breeding is crucial in reducing the probability of dogs getting hip dysplasia.
Responsible hobby breeders will ensure their dogs have a healthy lineage that can be traced back for several generations. They will also look for balanced musculature in the rear limbs, which lowers the incidences of dysplasia. For someone looking to purchase a dog, the best way to lower the possibility of getting an animal that develops hip dysplasia is to examine the incidence of hip dysplasia in the litter's lineage. It is best to examine the parents and grandparents out to three or four generations.
Unfortunately, puppy mill operators and backyard breeders will pay little care to the genetic health of sires and dams and there will likely be a higher probability of hip dysplasia in offspring from disreputable breeders.
Nutrition. It is important for dog owners to educate themselves on the nutritional needs for their puppy and dog. When a puppy has a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia is present, feeding a high calorie, high protein diet which produces rapid weight gain will increase the likelihood of the disease developing because bones and musculature grow too rapidly.
Overfeeding a dog, and causing obesity will also exacerbate dysplasia by causing joint inflammation and placing extra pressure on joints.
Balanced exercise. High-impact activities such as jumping (especially on hind legs only) puts extra strain on a dog's hind quarters which can lead to deterioration of the hip joints. It is important to avoid repeating activities that can cause repetitive strain or that are unnatural to a dog's movement.
Once a dog has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia, dog owners should follow the recommendations for exercise and nutrition recommended by veterinarians.
The majority of dogs with hip dysplasia are able to live active lives when their condition is managed effectively. Owners who take the appropriate steps and have a treatment plan mapped out with their vet will help dogs with hip dysplasia live full lives.
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